Fortnite is one of the biggest pop cultural entities on the planet. Millions of people across the world spawn into Epic’s battle royale survival game, dance their emotes, build their walls, and shoot people until only one of 100 still stands, every day. This past Saturday, they—and I among them—watched a brand new clip from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker together. Well, sort of.
As part of a new collaboration between Lucasfilm and Fortnite developer Epic, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people logged into—or attempted to log into—the biggest video game in the world all at once on Saturday, December 14 to attend a live-streamed appearance by the Game Awards Host and general Videogamesman Geoff Keighley, voice of Sonic the Hedgehog (and also BB-8 more appropriately, I guess) Ben Schwartz, and The Rise of Skywalker director JJ Abrams.
This isn’t the first time live events have been brought to Fortnite’s digital world—electronica DJ Marshmello played a set in the game earlier this year—but it speaks to the absurd scope and reach that Fortnite has developed as a force in current culture in the last few years.
It’s a video game where 100 players drop onto an island, build defences, and shoot each other to bits until just one survivor remains, playing host to a simultaneously live-streamed in-game interview and clip from one of the most anticipated movies of the year, attended by people all over the world. I, a Star Wars fan and Fortnite-curious fan of games (it has yet to sink its teeth into me as it has those aforementioned millions around the world), was among them.
First though, if I was going to do something as dumb as basically watch the equivalent of a talk show appearance from inside a video game, I might as well be dressed the part. Good thing then that to celebrate the event, Fortnite was selling skins of Finn, Rey, and a Sith Trooper then, wasn’t it?
The things we do for content.
Anyhoo, happily now dressed up as Rey and wielding her quarterstaff as a resource-mining tool, I queued up for a game, and skydived my way to Risky Reels, the area of Fortnite’s map the clip would be broadcast from. I did so from Kylo Ren’s new ship from Rise, the hilariously-named TIE Whisper, another in-game item added to advertise the film and this event (this one for free, at least).
There were people already there, of course, all gathered and listening to both Keighley and Schwartz’s digital avatars chat and build up to the arrival of Abrams. Something already felt off though: Players could…damage each other? That seemed to be an odd choice, I thought, as I diligently avoided gunfire from a few trolls waiting for Abrams to appear. Appear he did, rather distressingly, as a Fortnite version of himself. He was oddly cartoony, and wearing inexplicably tight pants. Abrams even joked that he has never been thinner.
I proceeded to whack him a few times with Rey’s staff, because I could, and unlike everyone else in my lobby, Abrams couldn’t take damage. This is where, if you were among the other millions partaking this event, things would get wild. The Millennium Falcon would show up, a new clip—of Rey, Poe, and Finn infiltrating a First Order ship and Rey mindtricking a few troopers—would play, and then the First Order would attack in-game, bringing with them brand new lightsaber weapons added as a secret surprise for the event, letting players wield their own blades in-game. It sounds pretty wild!
I wouldn’t know, because at this point, whatever brokenness that had caused not just Fortnite logins, but access to Epic’s entire PC gaming storefront to buckle under the load, had also caused the lobby I was unlucky to load into to break to such a point that not only did the Rise of Skywalker clip not play, nor did any of the extra assets like the Falcon or Star Destroyers jumping into the sky load in, but, it was still a game of Fortnite: You could kill the other players. I got rocketed in the back while Abrams set up the clip, forcing myself to respawn and race back to Risky Reels, thinking I’d miss out on this bizarre endeavour.
Instead, the Storm—a damaging field that slowly draws in on Fortnite’s map over the course of a match leaving only a tight circle by its climax, designed to force players to constantly be on the move and get locked down to a small area, instead of hiding on the map to sneak their way to an easy high placement—closed in not just around, but through Risky Reels. I, and the few players remaining from the earlier bloodbath, sat there with Keighley, Schwartz, and Abrams’ avatars sitting in chairs.
They were immune to the storm’s effects.
We were not.
From there, with no clip watched, it descended into a game of Fortnite. I wandered around. Built some stairs to get over the side of a mountain. I shot some people with an assault rifle that felt very weird to see in Rey’s hands. Them someone who had found one of the Lightsabers that now spawned in the games ran up to me and killed me.
I logged off, slightly more confused about just what Fortnite is, than I was before all this, and went on with my Saturday.
Star Wars is weird. Video games are weird. Sometimes, every once in a while, they’re weird together. We live in such a strange, strange universe.